When Sunny Bird was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, she gained 19kg (42lbs) in just three months. Faced with debilitating illness, she was also forced to confront the challenge of investing in a whole new wardrobe to suit her changed figure.
The problem was that she found it near impossible to find clothing suited to her new shape online.
“Most dresses are designed for size 6-8 women and then they just add two inches around the waist for each size up, but that’s not how women’s bodies work,” says Sunny.
“I was getting so frustrated. I’d gone up in weight, so I thought I needed to go up in dress size equivalents but nothing was fitting me right. I’d be sending clothes back all the time. After chatting with my friends, I realised I wasn’t the only one ordering 20 items and then feel lucky if I kept one.”
Not just plus size, all sizes
The answer, she thought, would be to see models of her size wearing the items she wanted to buy, but that just didn't happen with her go-to brands. The alternative was specialist plus size brands.
Sunny refused to accept that women should have to wear different clothes or brands based on their size. Instead, she set about creating the Perfect Dress Company, catering to women of all sizes and providing a model in each size to give prospective customers an idea of what the dress is likely to look like on them.
With a name like Perfect Dress Company, the pressure to ensure the dresses lived up to expectation was huge. So instead of following the practice of simply adding inches, Sunny made slight amendments to each dress based on size.
“For our floor-length gown, we’ve amended the placement of the tummy trimmer panels, putting them a bit higher up on the bigger sizes because that’s where larger women carry their weight. By moving the panels, we also move the waistband to give the most flattering silhouette.”
Resolute in the decision to give women what they needed from fashion, Sunny consulted with women of all sizes to find out what they needed from a dress. The answer was comfort and for many that meant not being forced to wear control pants or shapewear underneath them.
What was initially planned as a year-long mission from concept to launch ended up taking two years as the team ended up creating its own unique fabric stretch and drape around wearer’s shapes while remaining durable and long-lasting.
Models of every size in each design
But before launching, the brand was dealt the new challenge of finding models for its vision of having a model of every size it offered demonstrate each design for the website.
“What I thought would take a few days ended up taking four months,” says Bird. “It was easy to get the smaller girls in size 6-8, then agencies had a few ‘plus size’, in reality a size 14. What they call ‘extreme’, around size 20-22, were very few and far between. So we ended up putting out our own casting call.”
Now only half of the women modelling for the Perfect Dress Company are full-time models. The rest are ordinary women who responded to Sunny’s call for representation in the fashion industry. One, Chloe (who models size 8-10), is an events manager, while Bethany (20-22 on the website) is a curvy girl influencer and communications officer.
And what’s more, the average height of the women featured is 170cm (5’7”) – 5cm (2 inches) shorter than the average model height of just over 175cm (5’9”). That 170cm figure is still taller than your average European woman, but not by much. According to a 2016 survey, the average European woman is around 167cm (5’6”) tall.
Founder Sunny Bird had no experience in fashion or design before eventually launching two days before Christmas with two designs in three colours. A month in, the fledgling business is already hailing success with not a single return as yet, meaning less carbon emissions and less waste, as well as plans for more designs.